The Czech ombudsman has taken up the case of dozens Chinese Christians who lodged asylum requests in the country on the grounds that they fear persecution at home. Examination of the cases appear to be taking a very long time and the watchdog says it has so far received no replies so far to its request for explanations from the Ministry of Interior.
Around 70 Chinese Christians have applied for asylum in the Czech Republic. Some of the cases date back around two years. The details of the individual cases and how they are progressing are not public.
What is clear though is that this is a political hot potato for the Czech Republic, which has invested a lot of time and effort over the last years resetting relations with Beijing in the hopes of the economic fruits that could result.
Part of that re-set in relations has involved toning down human rights criticism of China and accepting the baggage Beijing’s ‘One China’ policy, including the annexation of Tibet. To accept the asylum applications would amount to saying China abuses the Christians’ human rights.
Ombudswoman Anna Šabatová took up the case of the Chinese Christians with little more to go on than the not very detailed initial media reports of the cases and the fact that the Ministry of Interior appears to be dragging its feet on delivering decisions. She spoke to public service broadcaster Czech Radio.
"We informed the Ministry of Interior officially that we have launched administrative procedures and lodged five questions with them seeking answers. And we sought deadlines when we can look at the documents. Until those deadlines expire nothing will happen. It would not be exceptional if the ministry does not reply in time. Unfortunately this section for asylum and migration policy often cooperates in a very unenthusiastic fashion and I think that could also be the subject of procedural steps as well."
So far replies to the questions have not arrived although the deadline is looming. One of the problems the watchdog’s office faces is that the asylum rules have changed over the last year or two with certain deadlines applying to some asylum cases and different ones to others. Under one set of rules the maximum delay for an asylum decision is 18 months with no possibility of a further extension. Anna Šabatová:
"Always in such cases we have to examine under which categories they fall. Some certainly fall under one and some under the other and there are around 70 cases in all. I want to look at all the documentation and to see how the prolongations are being justified. The difficulties and special circumstances surrounding these cases have to be shown."
If the ministry fails to respond or the answers are unsatisfactory then the ombudswoman threatens to escalate its pressure, effectively by kicking up a fuss about the cases, seeking government support, and shaming the ministry into action. Under Czech law, the Ombudsman’s office does not have much more drastic steps at its disposal.